For as long as I can remember, Mother has described me as “honest…to a fault.” My parents did try to curb my outspoken, old-fashioned news reporter mouth, but were unsuccessful. As a young child I answered every question with clarity and brutal honesty. What did I think of mother’s new dress? “Ugly.” Was I happy that a new baby was on the way? “No.” I annoyed my mother by reporting everything — every store she and I visited, and all purchases that had been made. Dad could look me in the eye and ask, “What did Mom get me for Christmas?” I would honestly report, “A watch.”
In third grade I was severely reprimanded by our kindly principal for telling the bus driver, “You are a very mean man!” The principal insisted, “Young ladies do not speak like that.” But the bus driver was a mean man, for he refused to let us open any window on the bus, even on the most stifling of days, and his behavior offended me. My parents could be heard arguing, “She is just like YOUR mother!” I might have been a poster child for the ‘Nature’ side of the “Nature vs. Nurture” philosophy.
In a job interview, I was asked, “What is your greatest strength?” I immediately answered, “My honesty.” The next question was, “What is your greatest weakness?” Without missing a beat, I answered, “I fail to suffer fools gladly.” But it’s true! Fools absolutely bring out the worst in me, and I am ever alert for their presence.
I just will not tolerate any deceitful, shady, or dishonest acts. When I see, sense, (or am expected to play a part in,) anything that smells of lies, plots or evil plans — especially something to harm children, I become especially outspoken and focused. Once I sense a potential threat to the truth, or to my ability to believe in a person or a system, my nose is on the trail. This aspect of my personality might have been learned, and so attributed to ‘Nurture.’ After all, Dad did raise beagles and I had ample opportunities to watch those dogs work — sniffing out weasels, and other slinky, dangerous and shady creatures.
Knowing this, most readers will correctly guess that my years spent in the field of education, especially during these last decades of falling standards, rising costs, and exploding special education enrollments, have been fraught with stress, and filled with a variety of cruel and unusual attempts to shut me up. When all attempts to muzzle me have proven futile, some supervisors have considered ways to ‘let me go.’ (One was successful in a spectacularly expensive, and arguably illegal process — but the telling of that story must wait until I do retire and have time to write a very revealing and very thick book.) Actually, I give my all to my job, and spend my off-duty hours, and my own money, taking courses; reading books; researching methods and materials — all so I can do an even better job in my teaching. Only the truly careless or very stupid would accuse me of poor job performance.
I suspect that I cannot age fast enough to suit the education cartel; surely they pray that I do not decide to teach until I am seventy-two years old, as my mother did. They will be delighted when I finally put down my chalk and pack up my materials. In the meantime, those who hold me in disregard use two main strategies — attempts to set me up to fail and attacks on my personality.
Administrators are fully cognizant of the fact that when any teacher is assigned classes composed of students of mixed abilities and disabilities, it is the children who ultimately lose. But some adults simply cannot be adult about the matter. Even when I am asked to organize my students into productive class configurations for the forthcoming year, I fully expect that the names will be shaken in a hat, chosen by a blindfolded player, and then assigned helter-skelter to classes. Students who can read Shakespeare, and comprehend high level vocabulary using knowledge of Greek and Latin roots, will be placed with children new to my methods — children who have absolutely no concept of phonemic awareness, or the alphabetic principle; those with vocabulary bases barely above poorly pronounced slang; — in other words, children who are, academically, where the experienced students were a year or two ago. All together; in one class; with a supervisor who states that it is the obligation of the special education teacher to fully meet the varying needs of any and all children assigned to each and every class. One might be correct in believing that only a fool could be so naïve, or so purposely cruel. The children; the parents; society; myself — are all set up to fail. There is thus little mystery as to why so few special education students are ever successfully remediated or ever leave special education placements.
The more I refuse to quietly accept such foolish, monarchial decisions, especially those which are certainly not in the best interest of the children, the more abusive the personal attacks become. No matter that the concerns I express are valid, accurate and speak to our responsibilities to educate children well and thoroughly. No matter that I teach reading and English structure to children the system had relegated to permanent positions in non-productive ‘black hole’ placements. No matter that I offer to freely share my skills with any teacher who is interested in learning how to skillfully teach reading. No matter. Criticism just becomes more creative.
When I am told, “You are the most negative person I have ever met!” I translate that to mean, ‘You are the person most likely to expose my lies and shady behaviors, so I hope to frighten you into keeping quiet, knowing that I seek out gossip.’
I have been told that I am a source of frustration for person(s) in the staff lounge, “She is always so negative.” (Translation: ‘She keeps pointing out that our new-new math program is not working and that our school-wide math competencies have dropped to all-time lows. I don’t want to hear it; or admit it; or make changes that would be in the best interests of the children.’)
I was once attacked with a viciously expressed, “I don’t think you will ever be happy about anything.” (Translation: ‘There must be something I can say that will hurt you enough to get you to take early retirement.’)
But the following attack wins the prize as the Number One reason why no intelligent person should ever sit back and ‘suffer fools gladly:’
“You are a VORTEX. Picture a sink of water, and someone pulls the plug. You are the vortex of swirling, dirty water, sucking this school down the drain.” (Translation: ‘Maybe if I describe you, as the wise and astute teachers see me, everyone will blame you for the decay of the school, instead of blaming me as the person actually in charge.’)
You must admit that this one took real creativity, hatred and denial. It won’t be effective, though. I will still keep my eye, my nose, and my old-fashioned reporter’s honesty, focused on any threat or danger to my students. I will still advocate for parents and students; I will still advise parents in ways to advocate for their own children.
I maintain that no one, especially those accepting money as educators, should be doing anything to cheat children and tolerate low standards in education. I also maintain that it is the role of supervisors to manage schools in such ways as to enable teachers to do even better teaching; to set up the classes and wisely choose curriculum so that students can learn important skills; develop a broad, accurate knowledge base; and realize each citizen’s responsibility in saving America. For these things we pay taxes. For the lack of these things, we are cheated when we pay taxes. About these things I am outspoken — driven to expose fools and fraudulent practices, plans and plots.
Some supervisors repeatedly err by trying to make me, and others like me, appear to be the guilty parties; the individuals who are supposedly creating the mistakes in educational policies by simply being the people we are, with the personalities that we have always had. Too many supervisors refuse to admit their own responsibilities to be wise, effective educational leaders; models of honor and intelligence. They refuse to admit that I, along with so many other mistreated teachers and educational professionals, are willing to fight to champion the rights of school children. They resent the fact that we are determined that students be taught efficiently and effectively; that students receive outstanding educations in exchange for the outstanding, even shocking, amounts of money taken from Americans to support the government schools.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.